Thursday, November 13, 2014

As Summer Fades, It's Okay to Fall Behind in the Garden

By Kristy Belaney

Fall in Northeast Ohio can be pretty spectacular. The sun is usually shining, the air is crisp and light free from the cloak of humidity and the leaves put on a breathtaking show of color for all to admire. Because of this, fall is a popular time with gardeners as they take to their landscapes for one last hoorah before the snow falls.

The mild weather is perfect for planting new trees, shrubs and perennials. The combination of extra rainfall along with the warm soil allows new plantings to develop strong root systems which will give their above ground growth a head start in the spring. Fall is also a great time to divide any existing perennials you may have such as ornamental grasses, iris, daylilies, and coneflowers. 

Fall gardening does have some merit. But before you go cutting down every spent blossom, here are some things to consider. Besides planting and dividing, little else needs done.

The Ghosts of Flowers are Beautiful in Their Own Right 

New York Ironweed
If you are one of those gardeners who sees this period of transition from summer into fall as a sad one, take heart. Fading flowers and seed heads can add an entirely new dimension to your landscape. The shapes and textures of them can be downright striking in their own right and the warmer tones of the browns and golds they share compliment the earthy colors of the season.

Cup Plant

Untouched Plants Provide Food and Shelter

Plants such as Purple Coneflowers and Black Eyed Susans should always be left alone in the fall with their stems in tact. These plants and many others provide food for birds and wildlife throughout the winter when sources are scarce. Many insects, including lady beetles, spiders and a few butterflies take shelter in leaf litter and other organic debris in the fall. Other moths and butterflies are in their pupa stage during this time of the season and unnecessary raking and pruning could destroy their cocoons. Ants go deeper into their nests and close up the exit holes with soil. Some solitary bees use brush piles to hibernate in and frogs and toads will seek out logs and dead ground cover to over winter. These amazing creatures do not have the luxury of turning up a thermostat when it gets chilly as we do, so don't take away their humble shelters!

Purple Coneflower

Standing Perennials act as Insulator Conductors

And it isn't just the bugs that will benefit from this relaxed approach. As snow collects around the standing perennials, the insulation factor will kick in and protect the plants root system, giving it a better chance of survival. This ensures a vibrant garden for you in the springtime, which is something to look forward to.


As this post comes to a close and I glance outside at the first falling snow, I realize it may have come a bit too late for some. If you already swept your fall garden clean this year, put yourself at ease. Next year you can just sit back, wrapped up in your favorite sweater with a cup of hot chocolate or apple cider, gazing at the changing leaves and not feel one bit bad for falling behind in the garden.



  1. I leave the leaves on the beds and have for 9 years now...but sadly I did have to cut down lots of plants as the garden was overrun this year due to not being able to garden...and we needed to keep the vole damage to a minimum if that is possible..usually we can if we cut down more plants. But we leave lots too for all the critters. I don't even clear cut in the spring as the newly arrived birds cans till find seed. Oh and we had 6 inches of insulating snow overnight...Great post!!

    1. Thank you, Donna! It is always interesting to learn how others tend to their gardens and what works for them. I think the snow is here to stay for us now too. Thank you for commenting.

  2. Once again, love reading your posts! You have such a way with words, so descriptive, you can "see" what you are writing about. Have a warm winter, well, guess not in northeast Ohio, but have a safe one! Look forward to your posts!

    1. Thank you so much! It is always nice to engage with followers and reading comments like yours absolutely make my day and encourage me to continue posting. Thanks again!

  3. Please continue posting Kristy you are a very talented writer!!